Tonight is the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Tomorrow also happens to be the day I start seminary. It’s a new season for me, a very significant one. And tonight, I realized it needs to start with surrender.
Everything is shifting around me. I just moved across the country to a new city, bought a new car, moved into a new place, and have been navigating new social circles, new routines, new relationships, new everything. My understanding of God and the Bible (two things I hold most dear) may also be about to change, I’m told. But one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s God.
He’s the same.
Facing My Failure
Tonight, at a worship gathering, something unexpected happened. I apologized to God, perhaps for the first time, for the bitterness that took hold in my heart about a year ago.
As I was singing this lyric: “I’m sorry when I’ve just gone through the motions,” I began to remember that time. When church became a burden to me. When it was a struggle to talk to anyone at church, much less “serve.” When I was unable to praise God from the stage anymore. Worst of all, the heartbreaking moment when Jesus asked me if I trusted him, and for the first time in my life, I couldn’t give him an unequivocal yes.
It’s easy to blame others. I could blame the unhealthy church system of which I was a part for my decline. I could blame the mistakes of my church leaders for the deep cynicism that took root in my heart. It is important, in fact, to identify and call out those factors. It does no one any good to cover over the sin of pastors or churches who have become so full of pride, insecurity, or fear that they have begun to prey on their sheep rather than protect and empower them.
But, I also needed to take responsibility for myself and my choices. I needed to say a genuine sorry to God, because I truly regretted not being able to praise and serve Him the way He deserved.
His response both pained and relieved me.
“Your pure devotion to Me was crushed,” He said. “It was crushed by an oppressive system. That was not My agenda, that was the agenda of humans. I DO NOT SEE PEOPLE AS RESOURCES.”
From Failure to Freedom
I began to cry. First for myself, but then for all the others. All the other people out there full of pure devotion who are being crushed by oppressive religious systems, all those innocent-hearted people being taken advantage of by greedy or blind spiritual leaders. I’ve found my freedom, but what about them?
“Who will rescue those people and set them free?” I cried out.
The answer nudged me in my spirit: Would you be willing to be part of the solution?
At this point, one of the pastors said into the mic, “Jesus is enough for us. We follow Jesus wherever He leads.” And someone in the congregation shouted out a mighty, “YES!”
In my mind, I responded, “Do you know what you are saying yes to? Do you know what it feels like to lose everything except Jesus? Do you realize how difficult the road Jesus walked was?”
It’s easy to say “yes” to God when you don’t understand the cost. My yeses to God when I was younger were heartfelt, but also naive.
I am much more circumspect in my yes to God now than I used to be, because now, I know what it feels like have the community you dearly love splinter apart, I know what it’s like to have the calling you cherished thrown into confusion, to have the leaders you admired use you, and to have all your convictions shaken. I know what it feels like to give your ALL to something that crumbles beneath your feet. I know what it’s like to persevere, and at the end of the day, to have nothing to show for it, to have nothing at all left––within or without you––except Jesus.
Perhaps that’s not technically true, but that’s how it felt when I left Korea. I had lost my clarity about the future. I had lost my community, my church, and my trust in people. I had lost my place in life––all the activities and roles that had given my life meaning. I had even lost trust in myself and my ability to make good decisions.
All I had left was Jesus. He was still with me. But I was in pieces.
Am I Enough?
Tonight, God asked me a pointed question: “If you had a choice, would you choose to go through all that again? Would you choose to follow Me to Korea again?” It seemed like a test, like a trick question. I knew the ‘right’ answer, but not my answer.
He persisted: “Was I enough for you?”
That question startled me. I am usually the one asking God that question. I’m the one asking why He loves me, or whether He still does. I’ve learned that He isn’t annoyed by my questions or insecurities, but rather loves reaffirming His love for me (which blows me away).
But this time, He was the one asking. And I could feel in his tone that He wasn’t testing me, He was asking for my real answer.
“Do you love me?”
I was reminded that I have a real relationship with God. It’s not about a list of rules or qualifications. It’s not about how loud I sing or how often I attend religious services. God wants me. He wants my heart. He is moved with real emotions by the things that I say and do.
Tears slipped down my cheeks as I said, “Yes. You were enough for me.”
It Costs Everything
One of the reasons I was crying was because I knew that I wasn’t just saying Yes about the past, but about the future, too. I would choose to follow Him again, wherever He might lead. And the path would not be certain, the outcome not guaranteed.
It had been a long time since I had offered God such a weighty sacrifice. For the past year, I’ve largely been resting, recovering, healing, processing. Now it was time. I needed to step into my new season in an intentional posture of submission and surrender.
The crazy thing is how good it feels to give myself to God. I can’t claim to understand the abounding JOY that fills me simply at the fact that I can trust Him, that I want to, that despite my trepidations about the potential discomforts of the road ahead, I want to give everything to serve Him and the people He loves.
His ability to make us new is truly astounding.
Yet I know I always have a choice. I could turn my back on the church, on the world, on Him. Instead, I choose to dive right back in. (I’m going to seminary of all things!)
The deeper my understanding of the cost, the more meaningful my Yes. What a joy to be able to give that Yes to the One who sees all things, who knows all things, and whose Love overcomes the darkness.